HIGH COURT OF JUSTICIARY
OPINION OF THE COURT
CHARLES WALTER WHITE,
PROCURATOR FISCAL, PERTH,
27 January 1999
This is an appeal by Stated Case by Charles White, who appeared at the Sheriff Court at Perth on 2 October 1997 and was convicted of an offence under the Firearms Act 1968, section 26(5), the offence consisting of making a statement which he knew to be false for the purpose of obtaining the grant of a shotgun certificate. The statement in question was a statement that he had no conviction - the truth being, in terms of the charge, that as he well knew he had been previously convicted in terms of the schedule. The previous conviction in question was an offence under the Dogs Protection of Livestock Act 1953 for which he had been admonished, that offence dating from 1994.
The matter was raised at the end of the prosecution case by way of submission. The submission was repelled and a conviction followed. The submission now is that both the rejection of the original submission and the subsequent conviction were wrong in law. As Mr Shead said in presenting the matter, the case falls really within a quite narrow compass.
There was evidence from a police constable of events on 2 or 3 November, when the constable went to see the appellant about the renewal of his shotgun certificate. It was due to expire on the 22nd of the month. The application form had not then been completed. The police constable checked the security arrangements and was satisfied and arranged to return on the 11th. On the 11th he returned. He was then, by that date, aware that the appellant had the previous conviction which we have mentioned. He checked the appellant's application form which had been completed. He then told the appellant that the previous conviction would have to be declared on the application form. He thus appears to have been giving the appellant a chance to correct what was a wrong statement in the completed form, which would otherwise simply have been handed over and accepted.
However, according to Constable Clark's evidence, the appellant's mood then changed. He refused to put the previous conviction in the application form. He explained that he had been admonished but had not been fined or convicted. He was again told that it would have to be declared on the application form. The appellant then took the form from Police Constable Clark and printed "None" in answer to the relevant question, the question being "Have you been convicted of any offence? If yes, give details."
Some days later, again at the farm, the appellant was told by the same constable that he was going to be charged with failing to divulge a conviction on his application to renew his shotgun certificate. The appellant then said to that police constable, and on this occasion this was in the presence of another constable, "You were on your own last time. I didn't know I had a conviction. You're making up stories". The question arises whether there is a corroborated case made by the Crown.
The submissions made by Mr Shead involved some consideration of what really constituted the statement. Was it the writing of the word "None"; was it the signature at the end of the form which has a declaration of truth? It does not appear to us that one need go into this in any detail. The form had been ticked in a relevant box for the question. It had then had added, by way of emphasis, the word "None" and the form had indeed been signed. The application had of course been what was being discussed on 11 November. There was no suggestion at that stage that the signature was not the appellant's and, so far as the events of that day are concerned, we are satisfied that it was a proper inference that it was his form, signed by him, the utterances in which must be seen as statements by him.
When the two constables go back on 14 November the application form is again what is being discussed and is the subject matter of the visit; and the appellant's reply when faced with the information that he was going to be charged with failing to divulge a conviction on his application in no way repudiates the application, but makes comments showing that he regards the previous visit as the subject matter of the current discussion. It is in these comments that corroboration is sought.
Before the sheriff, the submission by the fiscal was that in making his reply on that second occasion, in the context of an application, the appellant was adopting what had in fact happened on the previous occasion and the sheriff himself says that it could be inferred from his response that the appellant accepted that he had completed the particular application form which had been produced. We are satisfied that that inference is a justified one and that accordingly it has been established by corroborated evidence that the statement was indeed made by the appellant. It is also established that the statement was false because by joint minute it is accepted that the previous conviction was indeed a conviction. That being so, it does not appear to us that any other question really arises. There was some question as to whether the appellant knew that a statement such as this, which was false, was in fact false, both at the stage of the submission before his own evidence and subsequently. We are satisfied that there is no defence arising out of those matters. There may have been an error in law in not appreciating that a conviction such as this was a conviction but we are satisfied that this was a false statement made by the appellant and that there was corroboration. In these circumstances the questions posed by the sheriff will be answered in the affirmative. He was entitled to repel the submission and he was entitled to find the appellant guilty of the offence.